How to Connect with Major Donors: 5 Tips for Nonprofits

By: Kelly Velasquez-Hague

Major donors are pivotal to your organization’s fundraising strategy. In fact, one study found that 80% of donations come from the top 20% of donors. Major gifts establish a reliable donation pipeline that your organization can access at any time to power its critical services, programs, and fundraising events. 

To acquire and retain major donors, nonprofits need to nurture these relationships over time  and demonstrate the value in supporting your cause. After all, donors that feel passionate about your mission are much more likely to give significant contributions on a recurring basis. While fostering these relationships will require extra effort on your nonprofit’s end, it is well-worth it to build a thriving major donor program. 

To identify, connect with, and cultivate major donors for your cause, check out these 5 tips: 

  1. Use prospect research. 
  2. Host events for major donors. 
  3. Keep detailed donor records. 
  4. Send non-fundraising messages. 
  5. Emphasize the impact of donations. 

Whether you’re running an in-person, virtual, or hybrid fundraiser, major donors can provide the support you need to power your mission forward. Let’s begin. 

1. Use prospect research. 

Prospect research helps nonprofits identify a donor’s likelihood to give. This research provides insight into potential major donors, and allows your organizations to gain a deeper understanding of their giving capacity and backgrounds. 

When conducting prospect research it is important to review wealth and philanthropic data to uncover indicators of giving potential. 

Key factors to look for when conducting prospect research include: 

  • Occupation 
  • Political giving
  • Real estate investments 
  • Past giving behaviors 
  • Nonprofit involvement
  • Business affiliations 

Business affiliations are not only beneficial for understanding your donors’ ability to give, but can also help you form corporate partnerships. For example, if a supporter owns a local restaurant, they may be willing to initiate a corporate philanthropy program and extend financial support or in-kind donations to your organization. 

Since wealth and philanthropic data can be difficult to collect, work with a data appending service. According to NPOInfo, a data appending service can help you fill in gaps in your database, which you can then screen on your own or using wealth screening software. 

When conducting your prospect research, these three differentiators will help tailor your major donor identification: 

  • Affinity to give. Donors who care about your cause are more willing to give major gifts. Focus on passionate donors who support your nonprofit’s mission. 
  • Propensity to give. If a person has an extensive philanthropic history, they are more willing to share their wealth through philanthropic donations. 
  • Capacity to give. Help narrow your focus to those that have the funds to support a major donation. 

By leveraging prospect research, you can tailor your focus on the donors most willing, able, and passionate about giving. Reach out to donors with the potential to give major gifts and highlight the impact of increasing their support. 

2. Host events for major donors.

Hosting exclusive events for major donors is a great way to deepen their connection with your cause and motivate them to give. For example, let’s say your organization is hosting a hybrid charity auction. You can invite major donors to your in-person auction, and then allow all other supporters to participate remotely. This makes the experience special for major donors and demonstrates your nonprofit’s appreciation for their support. 

Here are key tips to remember when creating a major donor event:

  • Keep the event small. Exclusive events demonstrate the value and special role major donors play in serving your mission.
  • Focus on being professional but not overly formal. Remain professional during your event, but create a space that donors feel comfortable to share with your cause. 
  • Present actionable information. Use these events to present how major donors’ contributions directly impact organizational results. 

Just like other effective fundraising strategies, personalizing events with major donors helps increase engagement and passion for your cause. Use these events as an opportunity to get to know your major donors’ interests within and outside of your cause. This will help you cultivate major donor relationships without directly diving into major gift solicitation. Most importantly, major donor events allow for a donor to feel like a key organizational partner and not just someone who writes a check. 

3. Keep detailed donor records.

A centralized hub for your major donor records will help you prioritize organization and healthy data hygiene practices. Collecting and updating these records can impact the lasting success of your major donor program. 

These detailed records could include: 

  • Personal information. Besides their name, think of personal anecdotes that help deepen the connection to a donor, like their birthday or spouse’s name. 
  • Results from prospect research. You took the time to understand their philanthropic and wealth indicators, so make sure you continue to leverage this information past the prospecting phase. 
  • Donor engagement. Keep track of how your donors contribute to your organization besides just giving. Look for volunteer and event attendance as ways for donors to give back to your organization. 
  • Touchpoints made. You’ll need clear records of who’s talked with major donors and prospects, when, and about what. This will help you keep conversations moving forward, conserve your donors’ (and your team’s) time, and ensure you don’t make repeat asks too soon. 

These records ensure that you contact major donors at the right time and that their engagement with your organization remains positive. 

4. Send non-fundraising messages.

Focusing on better major donor relationships goes hand in hand with improving donor communication. Facilitating a consistent conversation with major donors creates a strong relationship and ensures donors feel they’re playing an important role in your organization. 

Create a regular cadence of both fundraising and non-fundraising related messages. Instead of asking a donor to give, do something to make them re-inspired to donate such as sharing updates on your latest projects, demonstrating impact, or just saying thank you. Like any relationship, it’s through these forms of communication that you foster connection with donors rather than making continuous asks. 

To improve your major donor communications even further, incorporate these strategies: 

  • Personalize your communication. According to the OneCause guide to online fundraising, personalized communications are more likely to inspire donations. Cite specific details in your outreach that are relevant to the recipient so they feel valued by your organization. 
  • Create a conversation, not a lecture. Allow your donors to share their ideas and stories about your organization. Include ways for your donors to contact your nonprofit directly to allow for their feedback to be heard.
  • Connect through values and experiences. Donating to a nonprofit is a personal experience, so take time to learn what draws your donors to your mission. Once you understand their values you can tailor communications to better keep them engaged. 

Remember to show your donors how much you value them through your outreach and messaging. What you say and how you say it matters, so take them time to plan both your cadence and your messaging. 

5. Emphasize the impact of donations.

When nonprofits effectively communicate the power of donations, major donors see the value in their contributions and deepen their connection to your mission. Their giving becomes personal and not solely a financial transaction. 

Consider the following when you develop your impact communications: 

  • Include impact in your annual report: Take the time to explain how much their major gifts have benefited your organization and community. Demonstrating tangible results for major donors factor into their personal impact on your organization. 
  • Share fundraising goals: Share your upcoming fundraising event goal, and the reason behind your fundraiser, so major donors feel more impassioned to help you cross the finish line.
  • Tie donations to accomplishments: Allow major donors to see how their donation can lead to a physical outcome for your cause. When you are open to expressing this impact, donors can find more value in their contribution and feel like they’re a part of your mission.

Every donation matters, so it’s important to express this value and impact to your major donors in a clear and organized way. With your major donors on your side, you will be able to meet and even exceed your nonprofit’s fundraising goals. 

Creating and maintaining major donor relationships is an impactful use of your nonprofit’s time and energy, which can lead to a huge pay-off. Ensuring that these donors feel connected and a part of your organization is an easy way to keep them interested for years to come. Through consistent communication and value expression, your nonprofit is on track to meeting your fundraising goals one major donor at a time. 


Kelly Velasquez-Hague brings over 20 years of fundraising, nonprofit management, and sales/marketing experience to her role as the Director of Content Marketing for OneCause. As a member of the OneCause sales and marketing team, Kelly manages all of the company’s content strategy and execution. She is passionate about empowering great missions and loves that her current role allows her to continue to help nonprofits reach new donors and raise more funds for their cause.

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